Prequel to Peter and the Wolf (2007)

Duration 33’
Produced by In the Wings
Concept by Anne Geenen
Choreographed by Didy Veldman
Designs by Paul Gallis
Text by Abi Brown
First performed at the Royal Theatre Carré, Amsterdam, conducted by Jan Stulen

Adding a prequel to Prokofiev’s masterpiece was the idea of In the Wings producer, Anne Geenen. Beautifully structured as it is, Peter and the Wolf is quite short; by adding a first act to it, it could become a full-length performance. Author, Abi Brown devised the story, and Didy Veldman choreographed both the prequel and Peter and the Wolf itself with her customary invention and fantasy. In order to fit alongside the original, the prequel operates in a similar manner; so the story is narrated, the orchestral forces are pretty much the same and the audience is introduced to the famous characters that make up Prokofiev’s fabulous tale, the bird, duck, cat, the wolf, and of course Peter.

It was, of course, an unenviable task to try and match the Prokofiev. For the most part we didn’t try. We tried to create something that would complement rather than mimic the original, so while the instrumentation is virtually the same, (two rather than three horns), there is a large featured part for the piano, and two busy percussion parts which help to create a distinct forest soundworld.

Another area where it differs from the original is that the narration is often embedded into the score, which thins out when the narration is required, rather than precede the music as it tends to in the Prokofiev. While this keeps the music rattling along, there is a danger that if the narrator responds visually to what’s happening onstage rather than in the orchestra, then there can be a bit of an aural pile-up with too much happening rendering the narration indistinct.

There are no direct references to Prokofiev’s score. In particular the characters are not closely associated with particular instruments as they are in the Prokofiev. At the moments when they are, it is not the same instrument, for example the furry cat’s introduction is a flutter-tonguing low flute, and the wolf is associated with the noble cello and the dark sinister spring drum. Instead the prequel has signature melodies for places, for the various locations in the story that range progressively from the warmth of the grandfather’s barn, a New England-style piano theme, to the dark, menacing hinterland which is depicted by percussion. In this way the music is describing the narrative but in a different way from the character-led Prokofiev.

This emphasis upon location is reinforced by the narrator’s exposee at the start. Peter and the Wolf starts with the narrator explains that the characters are played by instruments of the orchestra. It seemed the right thing to start the prequel, which after all is the introduction to the whole performance, with a similar preamble. In it he tells the children what sounds to expect in the forest, the safe place and the hinterland where the wolf roams. He also tells them where Peter’s grandfather lives by way of the piano motif.

The prequel has recently been reduced to a piano and wind sextet to match the miraculous transformation of the Prokofiev as a wind quintet. In this arrangement it was first performed in Antwerp and Ghent in May 2011, conducted by Stijn Saveniers.

photos courtesy of Paul Gallis and Anne Geenen